Wilson: Fanning the minicamp flames

Blogger Ryan Wilson takes a look back at a weekend that was created not to introduce rookies to the NFL, but to give fans something to talk about until training camp starts.

In the history of the NFL, has a rookie ever bombed during a three-day minicamp? I ask because every year we get stories of how first-round draft pick X looked great and late-round draft pick Y opened some eyes with his Z. (Here Z can be: athleticism, speed, arm strength, accuracy, smarts, or some combination therein -- it's your choice.)

I'm not complaining, mind you. I'm just curious. Anyway, Pittsburgh Steelers first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes looked great and late-round draft pick Omar Jacobs opened some eyes with his arm strength and accuracy.

Seriously, I really do love hearing that Santonio Holmes blew by Ike Taylor on a simple fly pattern during Saturday's practice, and Willie Reid made a nice catch along the sidelines that required some snazzy footwork.

In the grand scheme of things I'm guessing minicamp probably has no real bearing on how the new guys develop over the next three or four seasons, but it does serve a much more important purpose: As a fan, it gives me something to think about for the next few months as I wait for training camp. And in just in case you missed something from minicamp, here is my random assortment of stories from this weekend:

... In Jim Wexell's interview with Troy Polamalu, I found this Q & A pretty revealing:

SCI:Won't the character and chemistry carry over?

TP: Yeah, but we lost a very, very important block of leadership in Jerome and Chris and Kimo and Antwaan. Those guys are big locker room guys. It will be tough to replace that.

And in Monday's Tribune-Review Polamalu talked about his close relationship with Hope and how he lobbied for the organization to keep him in Pittsburgh.

Contrast this to what Bill Cowher said last week prior to the start of minicamp:

"We're going to have a lot of new faces," Cowher said. "We're losing guys like Jerome Bettis and Antwaan Randle El and Chris Hope and Kimo. Kimo, Jerome and Antwaan Randle El in the locker room had a presence, they had a personality that exuded confidence, that exuded purpose, and some people are going to have to replace them. It's a process -- who it is remains to be seen, and what kind of identity we can re-establish remains to be seen."
Notice anybody's name missing from the "locker room presence" conversation?

Yeah, I'm not here to bash Chris Hope because I was a big fan for much of the season and I wanted the team to re-sign him too. I just wonder if Cowher's omission was intentional or just an oversight. I actually talked about this in February, but it's worth repeating here because, well, we've got a lot of time to kill until training camp.

Prior to the start of free agency one of my big issues was the importance of re-signing Hope and the conversation had been some variation of, "He's Pittsburgh's most important free agent and he should be the top priority if he doesn't ask for a ridiculous contract." Given the Steelers' scheme, Wex thought Hope was replaceable. And then there was the story about Hope blaming Foote for getting treaded against the Browns. This caused me a lot of cognitive dissonance, primarily because I'd been Hope's biggest supporter.

(I do agree, however, that Hope doesn't wrap up on tackles, and have said as much in the past. Watching him you got the impression he was more interested in knocking people silly than actually tackling them. Off the top of my head, I can only remember the Browns game as an example, though. Well, that and he missed a couple of tackles on Antonio Gates in the MNF Chargers matchup. And oh yeah, he also whiffed on Rudi Johnson's touchdown run in the Wild Card game. But that's it. I think.)

Anyway, that story reminded me of a scene from the NFL Network's Game of the Week: The Super Bowl.

After Seattle scored their first touchdown (the pass from Hasselbeck to Stevens in the end zone where Troy looked like he got caught looking inside and/or got picked), the Steelers defense was on the sidelines and the camera showed Joey Porter talking to the defensive backs.

Porter: The touchdown with the tight end, that's wide open -- we're better than that.

Hope: The touchdown with the tight end? That's James!

Porter: Whoever it is, I'm saying, 'We're better than that.' Make them earn it.

I can only assume Hope was talking about James Farrior blowing a coverage, but I really have no way of knowing for sure. Still, two things stuck out to me as I watched this the first time.

First, I was really surprised to see Hope blame somebody else. One of the great things about watching the Steelers is that you seldom see a lot of histrionics on the sidelines. Even when this team was 6-10, nobody -- at least publicly -- made a peep, and there were never any Willie-McGinest-open-handed-slapping-Larry-Izzo moments on the field. Just a bunch of guys playing hard. Even when Tim Lewis was the defensive coordinator, I don't remember any players complaining in the papers about his schemes. It was only after Lewis was fired did some people question what he was doing, and how he went about doing it.

Second, of all the Steelers I would expect to be "leading," Joey Porter wouldn't be in my top 10. The fact that he was more concerned with everybody doing their jobs and less concerned (or not concerned at all) with laying blame says a lot about what he thinks is important. Even after Hope made his "Blame James!" comment, Porter was more interested in the defense playing together as a unit than pointing fingers. Interesting.

So maybe it's better that Hope ended up in Tennessee. Or maybe the Steelers should've re-signed him and the team will suffer in 2006 as a consequence. I'm betting on the former, especially if Dick LeBeau is coordinating the defense. I offer the following mathematical statement as proof: Ryan Clark + Tyrone Carter + Anthony Smith > Chris Hope. Q.E.D.

... As long as I'm talking about Clark, is anybody worried that this guy won't step in and do a solid job? Yeah, he won't be spectacular, but that's not in the job description. Just in case you're not convinced, here's a good read from last summer on Clark.

... By now we've all heard about Hines Ward taping his name to his helmet until he makes the team. Nice gesture by the veteran. In fact, I decided to do the exact same thing at my job. Of course I work in an office, don't usually wear a helmet and I take the subway to work, but those are pesky details.

... Bob Labriola has a nice little recap of Nate Washington's weekend. I tend to agree with those people who think that the Steelers will probably carry six wideouts and the list will include both Willie Reid and Nate Washington. Labriola also notices Omar Jacobs, who I am officially nicknaming The Predator.

... Let me say I was shocked -- Shocked! -- to hear Joey Porter running his yap in anticipation of his White House visit. This is easily my favorite part:

Defensive tackle Casey Hampton has already had the opportunity to meet the President. Hampton worked out with the President when he was at the University of Texas and Bush the governor.

"I haven't talked to him a lot since -- he wasn't the president then," said Hampton. "It's a little harder to see him."

It still impresses his teammates, though.

"He actually calls Casey 'Big Hamp.' That trips me out," said linebacker Joey Porter, of the President's name for Hampton. "Like, he knows the president. How do you get to know the president? It's crazy.

"I'll try to get on that level with him, like, 'Peezy, what's happening?' So if I get to the point where the president is calling me Peezy, it will be a good situation."

... In case you missed any of the minicamp interviews, you can watch them here.

... And finally, I don't know if this is real or not, but I'm assuming it is until I hear otherwise. Ladies and gentlemen, your 2006 Baltimore Ravens!


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